Exhibition has 99 problems, but Oscar movies ain’t one of them.
I am going to start the column today with a discussion about the delusional perception of the box office and Oscar here in early December. I had a chat with a knowledgeable friend yesterday, who insisted that this was a disastrous year for Oscar because the movies are not doing business. We had both read a number of stories about this in the last couple weeks. But none of those stories, as is the norm for much of media in 2022, bothered to do any research. So, here is a little research.
My Top 10 Best Picture contender list, as of last week. Others see it differently (fair enough), but not dramatically so. The number to the right is the current box office status of these films.
As you can see, 3 of the movies are not yet open, another isn’t reporting box office, 3 have grossed over $70 million, and 3 of the films have had modest/underwhelming pre-nomination box office.
How does this fit the mold of the pre-COVID Oscar seasons? Easy to answer. Here are 2019, 2018, and 2017 box office numbers as of the end of the first weekend after Thanksgiving in each year…
Lots of apples and oranges. But you may notice:
None of the eventual Oscar winners had grossed as much as $20 million as of this date in early December.
All these years had either 2 or 3 hit movies that had grossed most of their grosses before December.
Only one of the years had fewer than 2 eventual nominees that had not yet opened.
The average gross (as of this date) of eventual nominees already released was $56.6 million in 2017, $187 million in 2018, $120.6 million in 2019, and is $159.7 million this year. So this season, so far, using my Top 10, is the 2nd highest grossing set of (potential) nominees in the last 4 non-COVID seasons.
Don’t think I am being tricky by not including the COVID years. I am being kind. It was much worse. Last season, in this time frame, the average gross as of this date was $25 million, less than half of any of the other years.
Last year was also an unusual season with 3 eventual nominees not reporting box office and only one title over $100 million at this point in the season.
Of course, things can change. I no longer think Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will be nominated. But I do think A Man Called Otto could be pretty commercial and be a Best Picture nominee. Avatar: The Way of Water, which will do huge business, now seems sure to be nominated. And some would have The Woman King, which has grossed $67,107,644, edging out one of the smaller grossing titles, making this an even more commercial season.
Truth is, The Fabelmans not doing well upon opening has freaked people out and they have retreated into the mostly false narratives about the theatrical box office right now. They have forgotten that there is a rhythm to Oscar seasons and that this often involves expansions and increased box office success after Oscar nominations.
Looking back at 2019 specifically, no one assumed Little Women would gross $74 million in its 3 weekends before nominations or that it would end up with $108 million domestic. Parasite added 1.6x to its gross after being nominated. And 1917 also became a $159 million nominee, opening on Christmas Day. At this point in the season, only a comic book movie and a Tarantino movie that opened in July had impressive grosses.
I remember, back in 2012, after Silver Linings Playbook had done just $11 million in its first 3 weekends after a November 16 opening, a know-it-all laughed at my belief that the film was going to end up being a $100 million+ hit. He bet me $50 that it would never get past $50 million. The film grossed $132 million domestic. He never paid me… or even offered to, as I would have told him to keep his money.
You may have noticed that Martin McDonagh’s last Best Picture nominee, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, was at $13.5 million as of the first post-Thanksgiving weekend when it got nominated. So Banshees, not set in America and without an easy 35-words-or-less pitch, is $5 million behind that now. Horrors!!!
Todd Field’s last movie, a Best Picture nominee, Little Children, was at $1.8 million at this date when it was released. Ended up with $5.5 million total! Streaming must be responsible for that ugly event… in 2006. Theaters will not exist within a decade!!!
So calm down with the Oscar world coming to an end hysteria, please. There could be 2 or 3 or even 4 $100 million grossing films nominated this year. We could end up with the highest gross per title nominated in the expanded-to-10 era when we get to the end and count it all up.
And the ratings will still suck. Because The Academy has forgotten what they are selling in the last decade, reacting in fear to all kinds of things instead of asserting the things that have made it the premiere awards event, even in a period of declining awards interest.
But not because The Fabelmans - a movie idea that clearly excited film media much more than the average American movie fan - underperformed.
I’m not going to do a whole set of charts this week, but now that I have seen Avatar: The Way of Water and A Man Called Otto, I do have some adjustments.
Avatar was nominated for 9 Oscars in 2010. I now expect Avatar: The Way of Water to duplicate this, but with 2 fewer nominations. Original Score is not likely this time, though I like the work of Simon Franglen here. James Horner is gone and his themes are still there. The other lost nomination will be in Sound, which used to have 2 award categories and now just has the 1.
Also, Kate Winslet does not, it turns out, have a huge role that was hidden in the marketing. She is very good, but not so much that she is going to break the mold on motion-capture nominations.
On Otto, I now think Tom Hanks is actually likely to be nominated for Best Actor for this role, whether he gets the Supporting nod for Elvis or not. I don’t know whether he supplants Cruise or Nighy, as the other 3 slots (Butler, Farrell, Fraser) seem locked in… but in this performance as an aging grinch who slowly reconnects with his heart, he is primo Oscar bait.
I also think - and this is a scarier thing to write - that the film itself is a legitimate candidate for Best Picture. No one who has Everything Everywhere All at Once as their #1 is likely to vote for A Man Called Otto as their #2. But there is something warm and embracing about this intimate tale. And you may have heard… most Academy members are over 50. Many over 60. And over 70. I think there are a lot more than the minimum who will just plain love this movie in a way don’t love other potential nominees. Can it win? Probably not. But a nomination? Better than 50/50 in my view.
Just be patient… daily readers will become paid subscribers as the season continues and the tax year comes to an end…
Oscars no longer have anything to do with merit or achievement in the art of making motion pictures. It is all about politics (both woke and studio poltitics). Nobody I know in the business (or outside) has cared about what the Academy thinks for the last 2 decades.
Could "She Said" or "All Quiet on the Western Front" become Best Picture contenders?